What are the four distinct quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City?
First and foremost, Jerusalem is divided into two distinct regions: the “modern” city and the Old City. The “modern” city encircles the Old City, so the two are physically separated. Even though there are many hip restaurants and interesting places to visit in the city’s newer areas, the Old City remains the most popular tourist destination for a variety of reasons.
This hotly contested and very old city has its origins in the 11th century when the Hebrew Bible first described a heavily fortified city surrounded by impressive walls, which still stand today. This city’s history can be traced back to the dawn of time. Throughout the rest of the city’s history, the governorship has been passed around several times, and the distinct diversity that characterizes the city today is a reflection of the city’s troubled history.
The following four neighborhoods, collectively referred to as quarters, can currently be found within the Old City of Jerusalem:
- The city’s Jewish Quarter.
- The Muslim District
- Ghettos for Jews and Christians
- The Armenian Neighborhood of the City
Because each quarter contains a distinct set of significant experiences, it is necessary to thoroughly investigate all four quarters. And, due to the Old City’s small size (less than one square kilometer), it is entirely possible to spend a couple of days exploring the majority, if not all, of the neighborhoods.
The Jewish Quarter offers a variety of activities
The Jewish Quarter, also known colloquially as HaRova by its inhabitants, is located in the walled city’s southeast quadrant, and the Dung Gate provides access to the Jewish Quarter from the surrounding area. A significant portion of the original quarter was destroyed during the twentieth century, but it was eventually rebuilt under the direction of Israeli archaeologist Nhamn Avigad.
Several remarkable discoveries were made during the reconstruction period, all of which are still available to the public today. These include a 2,200-year-old depiction of the Temple menorah, remnants of the Burnt House (a building destroyed during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans from 66 to 73 CE), the Israelite Tower (which dates back to 586 BCE), and, most recently, a pool built by the Roman Tenth Legion Fretensis.
As someone who has seen the pool firsthand, I can attest that it is an attraction that is well worth seeing. The white mosaic floor, steps leading into the pool, and hundreds of terracotta roof tiles imprinted with the name of the ancient Roman unit that is thought to have been the building’s original owner can all be seen today. It’s easy to imagine it in its former glory as a popular bathing spot frequented by ancient Romans.
It is critical that you also visit the Hurva Synagogue
The structure, which was built in 1864 but has been destroyed several times throughout history, was finally reopened in 2010. It has been the subject of numerous paintings and works of literature over the years due to its significance in Jewish culture. You can participate in a guided tour of the building, during which you will learn about the building’s local history as well as its international significance.
Your tour trip will take you to Israel
The Western Wall is the last but not least
Even if you don’t believe in religion, it’s difficult not to be swept up in the atmosphere of this site, which is also considered the holiest place of prayer in Judaism. This location, like almost everywhere else in…well, Israel, is contentious and politically charged, but it is of exceptional historical significance to our entire world.
Visitors are welcome at all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year
Jews believe that God created Adam from dust gathered at the Western Wall and that Abraham came dangerously close to offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God at this location.
Muslims regard it as the third holiest place on earth, after Mecca and Medina, because it is believed to be the location from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
It is the location where I had the life-changing experience that I had been looking for throughout all of my previous travels but had not been able to find until that point. When I entered the women’s section of the wall (genders are separated in this area), I realized why the Western Wall is also known as “the Wailing Wall.” It is truly a sight to behold to witness the passionate performance that the most devout Jews put on as they pray and mourn in this location.
It was humbling to see hundreds of people in a rainbow of intensity respecting this ancient symbol. Some of them, like me, were there out of curiosity, but the vast majority were there to get closer to their god. I did what everyone else does before going there: I wished for something. I took the paper that had been given to me, carefully scribbled a wish for my life, and then slid it into a crevice in the stone wall. All of the well-wishes and prayers collected throughout the year are laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery.
And, as you leave the Jewish Quarter, I recommend that you take the Cardo, which was the main street used by the Romans. This meticulously excavated and reconstructed pathway will transport you back in time while also allowing you to purchase handicrafts as a souvenir of your trip and take a break at a peaceful cafe.
And now we’re off to a new neighborhood!
What are the activities available in the Muslim Quarter?
The Muslim Quarter is the largest and most populous of the four neighborhoods that comprise the Old City. More than 22,000 people live in this quarter, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be completely enthralled by the collision of fruity aromas, smoky incense, and spicy flavors that await you around every corner.
Make sure to go for a walk down streets like Souq Khan Al Zeit and Al Wat on an empty stomach. These areas have just as many options for dining as they do for shopping. In terms of food, I recommend ordering fresh pomegranate juice, creamy hummus, and murtabak, which is essentially a stuffed pancake, from any of the local restaurants. These are some of my personal favorites. If you’re looking for a portable snack to take with you on your travels, kunafeh, a soft cheese topped with shredded pastry, should be near the top of your list.
Nothing compares to the Temple Mount in terms of places to visit and enjoy yourself. If you’ve done any internet research, you’ve most likely seen a picture of this dome with a golden top. I promise it’s even more spectacular in person. Non-Muslims are not currently permitted to enter the building (the Dome of the Rock), but the grounds that surround it are open to all and well worth exploring.
Over time, approximately one hundred distinct structures, such as arches and fountains, have been constructed within the area
My experience in this area of the city has led me to believe that it is one of the most tranquil areas in the entire metropolis; as a result, if you need a moment of peace to regain your composure, this location is an excellent choice. Although admission is free, visiting hours are severely limited and subject to change without notice; as a result, the line to get in can become quite long at times.
Another significant location within the Muslim Quarter that you should not miss is the Masjid Al Aqsa, which is a mosque so large that it can accommodate up to 400,000 people who come to pray there.
In contrast to the Dome of the Rock, which is closed to visitors, this structure, located on the Temple Mount’s southern tip, is open to all. Before you arrive, make sure you are well-prepared: dress appropriately for the occasion, keep your hair covered (if you are a woman), and remove your shoes before entering the building. You will be entering the interior of the mosque, which is the second oldest in the world.
What activities are available in the Christian Quarter?
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the Christian Quarter, which is usually the first thing you see when you enter the Old City (it’s just beyond Jaffa Gate, which is a common starting point), and the Christian Quarter is home to one significant landmark in particular.
This fourth-century church is regarded as one of the most important in all of Christianity because it is thought to have been the site of two of the most important events in the religion’s history: Jesus’ crucifixion and, later, his burial and resurrection. It stood out to me as the most memorable part of the neighborhood because of its one-of-a-kind architecture and the level of excitement it induced in my fellow travelers.
Because of its understated exterior, the church appears to appear out of nowhere when you first turn the corner. Your eyes will need to adjust to the dim lighting, and your nose will need to adjust to the potent smell of burning incense as soon as you step inside. Both of these sensations will happen almost at the same time. The effect on the senses is almost immediate, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll need a moment to gather your wits before proceeding.
Being in the company of a large group of people who have traveled a long distance for the sole purpose of performing a pilgrimage is a deeply moving experience. The Stone of Unction is a particularly significant relic, and it was at the heart of much of the excitement that I witnessed during my visit. This is thought to be the location where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.
Because the church can get quite crowded during the day, and because there are many artifacts worth seeing beyond the Stone at the entrance, you should make time in your schedule to look at the various relics that it contains.
Other attractions in the Christian Quarter include the neo-Romanesque Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the Muristan, a marketplace built over the ruins of a long-gone Knights Hospitaller hospital for pilgrims and Jerusalem residents, and the Christian Quarter Shuk. The Christian Quarter Shuk is a dizzying array of mostly identical souvenir and gift stalls that fades into the more functional Muslim Quarter souk. Outside of the Church of
What are the activities available in the Armenian Quarter?
When it comes to the various types of experiences available in the Old City, the Armenian Quarter is criminally underserved. Armenia was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Christianity as their official religion, and as a result, the country has long played a role in Jerusalem’s history. The Western Wall and the Temple Mount, on the other hand, receive far more attention than Armenia.
In addition to the allure of the winding alleyways found throughout the quarter, there are three major locations to visit, two of which are churches. To begin, St. Mark’s Chapel is home to one of the city’s smallest and oldest Christian communities and is thought to be the actual site of the Last Supper.
The interior is more impressive than you might expect, and even though the church is relatively dark inside, the decoration is not lacking in ornateness. Furthermore, many people believe that the church contains one of the earliest depictions of the Virgin Mary, which can be found in this structure.
The Cathedral of Saint James is the other significant church in the area
This house of worship was built in the 12th century and is closed to the general public at all other times, including when regular services are held, so double-check.
Finally, don’t leave without seeing the Armenian Compound, a multi-purpose building that serves as a hospice, a monastery, and a residential area. Following the Armenian genocide, this compound opened its doors to displaced people from Turkey, and at one point housed over a thousand people. The structure houses a museum that displays important works of art as well as ancient manuscripts and documents of the Armenian people’s history.
If you are having difficulty gaining access to St. James Cathedral due to the unusual hours of operation, join a group tour that will coordinate your visit or inquire about the possibility of a private tour.